Tags: Air-Sea Battle
Colonel Robert Boyles’ article, “Air-Sea Battle Disclaimers And ‘Kill Chains,’” is thoughtfully crafted and facilitates exactly the type of Air-Sea Battle Concept discussion that should be occurring in PROCEEDINGS. The Air-Sea Battle Office welcomes this kind of assessment as it improves our end product.
Colonel Boyles’ article was good food for thought in the Air-Sea Battle forum, and as Director of the Air-Sea Battle Senior Steering Group, I directed our team to take aboard his comments, concerns and recommendations (The chair of the Senior Steering Group rotates among the Services. The next chair is BGen George W. Smith, Jr., USMC starting 1 February 2014). We evaluated Colonel Boyles’ recommendations, and I might add that his article was extremely timely as this week the Air-Sea Battle Office is hosting a working group in Washington of subject matter experts from all Service Echelon II commands to develop our Implementation Master Plan for Fiscal Years 2015-2017.
In our analysis of Colonel Boyles’ commentary, we find several points worthy of deeper analysis. He is absolutely correct that Air-Sea Battle uses the analysis of effects chains to determine the needed characteristics of the desired future joint force. He opines that kill chains are ASB’s “approach to war” and an attempt to “create strategic context” by defining “war on its own technical or tactical-level terms.” We agree to disagree on this. The truth is that most military weapons systems are developed to contribute to or accomplish an effects chain or break a known adversary’s effects chain. Understanding how a potential adversary will use his weapons systems and developing capabilities that can defeat or negate these weapons is a worthy pursuit and capability development often uses effects chain analysis to establish requirements and acquisition needs. It would be incorrect to conclude that because ASB uses effects chain analysis, that ASB is only about effects chains and ignores other aspects of warfighting, force development, and operational art. Effects chains are the “coin of the realm” in building the right force design and buying the right fleet architecture (platforms and payloads) for the future joint force. Effects chains tie programs to operational effects and are understood by senior leaders, acquisition professionals, budgeteers, and appropriators in Congress.
The author goes on to list historical strategic failures which he believes were caused by flawed operational concepts – concepts which failed (in his analysis) because they did not consider all operational variables (emphasis added). He provides many historical examples for examination. Let’s begin with Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon. In each of these cases, freedom of action was not the problem – the U.S. or Israel already had access, or the fight to gain access was over quickly. ASB’s conceptual design would not apply to a great degree in these cases. With air and maritime superiority in hand, the flaws in these operations came in the application and expectations of the power projection or follow-on operations – not in the operations required to gain and maintain freedom of action. This is why the concept is not just “about China.” As weapons systems proliferate it is important to keep the concept in context. ASB is not about any one particular challenger; rather, it addresses any adversary bold enough to field an anti-access/area denial strategy that might restrict our Joint Force access in the Global Commons. ASB is not limited to a particular anti-access/area denial challenge nor does it attempt to describe or conceptualize what follow-on operations will be. As a limited concept, ASB tries to set the conditions for follow-on operations – whatever is needed and appropriate. It should be noted that the problem ASB is trying to resolve is not a small one. The assertion that the “little c” concept of ASB is overshadowing more important ideas simply ignores the problem of access and freedom of action, now and in the future, and assumes the joint force will always be able to achieve freedom of action without purposeful force development activities and the development of specific capabilities. Operational access and freedom of maneuver under an adversary’s A2/AD umbrella is not a trivial problem.
Later in the piece, the author discusses Syria. All the missions laid out as important for an operation in Syria (which looks a lot like the missions required if the U.S. were to invade and occupy) require access and freedom of action. Syria may not be able to sustain a prolonged and robust “A2/AD” resistance to U.S. forces, but that does not mean Syria in 2013 is representative of the security environment in 2025 and beyond. Building a force to fight today’s war amidst a rapidly changing security environment is the quickest path to an obsolete force, optimized for missions no longer the most strategically relevant.
Next, the author critiques the Air-Sea Battle (ASB) Concept in terms of what he calls “unbounded language,” which seems to contradict his assertion that strategic failures occur when concepts do not consider all operations variables. Regardless, his extensive list of references does not include the unclassified version of the Concept published in May 2013. The following quote from the unclassified Concept describes its “bounds” and the work of the ASB Office:
“ASB is a limited objective concept that describes what is necessary for the joint force to sufficiently shape A2/AD environments to enable concurrent or follow-on power projection operations. The ASB Concept seeks to ensure freedom of action in the global commons and is intended to assure allies and deter potential adversaries. ASB is a supporting concept to the Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC), and provides a detailed view of specific technological and operational aspects of the overall A2/AD challenge in the global commons.”
This language establishes the bounds of ASB in order to establish freedom of action in the global commons that enables follow-on operations. Freedom of action in the global commons is needed for a whole host of possible military operations. In many cases, U.S. forces already have it and it is not likely to be challenged. ASB is focused on those cases where freedom of action is or can be challenged by adversaries with particular capabilities. So, even in this context, ASB is quite bounded by the problem it is trying to address.
Finally, we would also challenge the author’s assertions regarding Title 10 and the Joint Staff. After the closure of Joint Forces Command, DoD defined the Title 10 role of force development as almost exclusively belonging to the Services. DoD invests the Services with the responsibilities to “develop concepts, doctrine, tactics, techniques, and procedures, and organize, train, equip, and provide…forces.” It also directs the Joint Staff to “provide guidance on joint concept development and experimentation to the Combatant Commands and Services.” In other words, the Joint Staff oversees the Services for force development. The reality is the Joint Staff J7 is an ex-officio member of the Air-Sea Battle Office governing boards and the Air-Sea Battle Implementation Master Plan feeds directly into the Joint Staff’s implementation efforts for Joint Operational Access. In fact, the close alignment between the two concepts on anti-access/area denial and Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC) position on the so-called controversial idea of “deep” strike will undoubtedly surprise many readers.
I return to where I started. This week, we assemble the Air-Sea Battle Working Groups at the Washington Navy Yard to work on developing the Implementation Master Plan for Fiscal Years 2015-2017. We laud Colonel Robert Boyles for his analysis and I personally invited him to join us in this important Working Group discussion. Colonel Boyles showed up for the event today and I commended his research, his perspective and his article to everyone in the room. As he did for us, I encouraged all participants in the Working Group to challenge the assumptions. Colonel Boyles concluded the meeting with the quote, “I may be critical of the Concept, but I am a believer in Air Sea Battle!”
That is exactly the kind of approach to doing business that we need. I hope others out there will take advantage of the forum of PROCEEDINGS and the U. S. Naval Institute to influence critical thinking of our warfighters of the future.